Monday, December 31, 2012

The C-word Rant

I have just recently read The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (well...not very recently, I had to take a couple of weeks to mull it over first before I could write calmly about it).  When DH first bought it I automatically dismissed it because instinctually I just don't want to go there in my mind, but a friend recommended it to me so I thought it was time to have a look.  It was pretty much as I expected, the usual story, with some neat little extras,  a story told in letter form to his fictional daughter, and it was nice how Ned tried to tone down his cursing by substituting the word adjectival instead of the usual words.  Which was probably a good idea as he had a lot to be adjectivally mad about.  At the end I felt the usual frustration and anger, which I have always felt.  Maybe this is hardwired into all Australians?  The indignation felt over such outrageous treatment of another human being.

At the root of it I will always be angry about how convicts and descendants of convicts were treated.  It has become personal for me.  When I was a kid and was taught at school about Ned Kelly he was always held up as a colonial hero (even though he was a thief and a murderer which was much more than what his father, who was a convict, was sent over for in the first place).  He has always been a folk hero because he fought against the English which has always been a very hard thing to do. Those Emglish bastards had so much power over everyone else (and incidentally there were thieves and murderers too among the upper gentry who could get away with it because of their class and power).  To be fair, the English weren't all like that, and I have been making a study of various journals and books written by people of the times, trying to get a grasp of my own heritage and history.  No matter the origins, these are the people who built Australia from the bottom up.  That's nothing to be ashamed of.

It became personal for me because since I immigrated to Canada I have been asked a few times if I was descended from convicts (I don't know if I am), but the latest, most rudest, stupidest, arse-hattiest question was pointed at me last spring where the tool who asked outright after finding out I was Australian,  "Are you a criminal?".  He thought it was funny and even laughed at me.     The guy was actually raving about a trip he wanted to take to Australia specifically to do the surfing etc. and it occurred to me at the time to give him a little warning about not asking that kind of question to people there, but something stopped me from doing so, and I can only hope that he does ask someone there, hopefully at the local pub filled with really beefy guys from the local footy team.

Thing is, Australia would not be what it is today if it weren't for the convicts and colonists.  Douglas Adams wrote this lovely little story about Australia that is included in his very last book The Salmon of Doubt  (compiled after his death), which I recommend reading because, naturally it is funny, but also provides a different point of view to the whole idea of dumping criminals in a paradise like Australia.  I am proud of my heritage, no matter what, because hard working backbone-of-the-country type people stuck it to the English and made a great nation, chock full of the most brightest, creative and beautiful people.  It's something to be proud of.

So give the True History a read.  Even with it's fictional elements it is still really close to the original story, he did those things, and for those reasons.  Try not to get too mad about how it ended for Ned and remember that he is a legend, which is more powerful than anything he could have ever done while he was alive. 

The Vampires of 2012

One of my reading categories this year was vampires.  I am not a huge fan of vampire stories, but there is so much out there now I wanted to get aquainted with what there was (sadly I didn't even get to any of |Anne Rice's works which I have heard are quite good).  I don't seem to have found a lot of great vamp books to read this year, the limit was twelve but there were only three that really stood out for me, the rest (which I won't mention because that would just be mean), were pretty mediocre, predictable, and what I had expected of the new craze/fad for most stories about vampires these days which must include some sex, violence (preferably at the same time) and some gore (perhaps in an attempt to mimic Charlaine Harris or to emulate Stephanie Meyer had she wanted to take things that extra adult step).  Not everything is created equal.
For starters I began this year with Bram Stoker's Dracula.  It was about time.   I have seen the movies  and had been very scared of them when I was a little girl. I loved the movie Van Helsing with all it's steampunk gear and sexy star actor (Wolverine with long hair grroowwl).  I chose it to read after finishing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 1 by Alan Moore.  Mina Harker was one of his characters and I thought it was time I finally got to the true story because I was pretty uncertain about what happened to Mina in the movies I saw.  Did she divorce her husband like Alan Moore wrote, or did she actually turn into a vampire like in the movie loosely based on Moore's graphic novel (which is a favorite of mine even though Moore has disassociated himself from it).    I honestly had expected it to be a bit dry and possibly boring (old stuff can be that way), and was surprised in a very good way.  I loved the story telling format of letter writing in the first part, the underlying fear and suspense was brilliant and I was very worried for Jonathan Harker's sake.  When we are moved to England and into the second part it does not disappoint, it's full of flowery language on Van Helsing's part ( I thought he was really gabby), and full of action and certainly not dry and boring!  The ending was very satisfying (after all of that suspense). 
My second favorite was unexpected.  Abraham 
Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith.   I had been ignoring this book simply
because of it's popularity and because it seems the style in recent years to make these mash-ups and odd pairings.  I don't have anything against them, I'm just a very busy reader and they were low on my list of thing to read.  I'm glad I had a look at this one, it was fabulous.  A nice break break from the stories I had read so far.  I have always had a tremendous respect for Abraham Lincoln, so it just seems to make perfect sense that he would kick ass if he had to fight such an adversary (certain other people from around that time in history made cameos in this story too, I won't say who, they just belonged in the story and added to the historical fiction).
 Some photos that have been making the rounds on the internet have provided me with many moments of laughter, especially this one (if I could have a t-shirt made, I would!)
 Last but not least is The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks (Australian!).  Not your regular run of the mill vampires.  It was another refreshing change, and I got a kick out of imagining this group of vampires out and about in Sydney,  Australia.  I can even picture the television movie they'd make of this book.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year End Round-up For Kid's Lit.

There were a few kids books that I really liked this year.   Out of the sixty-odd children's books that I got through in 2012 a few of them stood out from the crowd.  They are in no sense current, but spread out all over the place and years. 

For starters there is the Leviathan Trilogy.  I was lucky to stumble upon this threesome in a steampunk package and was pleasantly suprised and delighted with what I had read.  I loved the alternate universe, the mechanics of a Darwinist versus Clankers society, and most of all I loved the female protagonist who not only exceeded expectations but had me laughing out loud.  This is a must read for all the young girls I know (Ages 12 and up)
When You Reach Me  by Rebecca Stead, was a powerful, punchy read which will have you on the edge of your seat until you have finished the book.  Another great female character.  I love it when a story is so intricately woven.  No wonder it won the Newbery. (ages 10 and up)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (another Newbery winner) was pleasure beyond measure. It was wonderful to hold in my hand ( I loved the feel of the cover and it's embossed words),  the illustrations were perfect, and  the story very original.   Great for both boys and girls.  (Ages 10 and up)

 The Invention of Hugo Cabret  by Brian Selznick.  I plan on including this with my illustrators unit next year.  I was enchanted.  A great big lovely book, such a pleasure to hold and such a wonderful story to read in an afternoon. (Ages 10 and up)
Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge by Karen McCombie.  Another powerful story of a coming of age girl who gets through the bad stuff in an interesting way.  I liked the very Scottishness of it.  The cover is just delicious. (Ages 10 and up)
Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach.  A good mystery read.  I don't very often come across mysteries for kids anymore (though we have the classic Hardy Boys, Nancy Drews, and The Three Investigators collecting dust on the shelf).  There just hasn't been the interest, but I liked this one. (Ages 12 and up)
The Twits by Roald Dahl.  The perfect combination of really disgusting things and a children's revolt against grownups that should appeal to any kid, it works every time. (Ages 8 and up)
Kenny and the  Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi.  I have just started looking at other things that DiTerlizzi wrote,  I really liked his The Search for Wondla.  He just makes a beautiful book.  A great story and gorgeous illustrations, he is the whole package!  What's not to love in a story about a rabbit and a dragon? (Ages 10 and up)

The BFG by Roald Dahl.  I loved this story from start to finish, it wasn't hard to read at all, and I loved the BFG's message.  His arguments were priceless and still very relevant.  'Dahl's Chickens' still cracks me up!
(Ages 10 and up)

To finish up The Witches by Roald Dahl (can you tell I was buying up the rest of the Dahl books we do not have in the library?).  Another winning book by Roald, complete with evil, cruelty and revolution.  The book is better than the movie for sure (but then for the most part the book usually is better than it's movie counterpart.)

My favorite discovery this year is Oliver Jeffers.  I have only bought the one book so far but I plan on getting the rest because they are just magical.  Simple, rich and  beautiful illusrations with sweet little stories to match.  DH and I bought some for our grandnieces this Christmas and they were well liked.

On The Home Stretch

2013 signals the end of a fascinating story.  The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris  is coming to an end at book thirteen.  I have followed this story with interest and the characters are my absolute favorites, I love the main protagonist Sookie Stackhouse.    Usually I don't hold much truck with series (lets face it there are so many out there now and some of them are so long winded that they have lost my interest before completion...Wheel of Time anyone?), and  there are the series that will just not ever end! (I shrink in horror from those).

Sookie Stackhouse's story is a hard one, and I have been impressed (for the most part) with how she has dealt with adversity.  Harris wrote her characters very well, I have a strong sense of what it's like to be a well brought up southern woman, complete with good manners, a strong backbone, and a determination to present a certain front to the rest of the world which has it's own 'old world' kind of charm.  I have always liked a story that has presented a strong southern woman as I admire them immensely (Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe).  I imagine that  Harris has inserted her own personal strength into her female characters, that makes them strong even after suffering as they have (and with a sense of humor too).  After reading all of her other books, and her blog, Harris impresses me with her  strength and intelligence. 

This next year I will be re-reading the whole series as part of my reading challenge for 2013 completeing them all in time for May 5th when the last Sookie Stackhouse story will be published.  I am a little sad to see her go, but at the same time it's a good thing that the story is ending (that line from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes "A lady always knows when to leave..." comes to mind).
I don't know how it will end, every book has been a surprise for me.  Sookie has had a few relationships which have caused her some pain (though she has always become stronger because of it), There's Bill who was her first lover, Sam who is her boss (he's on the list though they have never been together), Eric the Viking Vamp and the weretiger Quinn.   I know what I hope for, and it has actually been biasing what I have read so far this week.  I hope that Sookie will live happily ever after with Sam who can protect her, give her children, and grow old with her.  Not that these are his only good qualities, he has been in love with her for years, has supported her through all of her troubles, and consistently treated her with the greatest respect (and has always spoken his mind if he hasn't liked something she's done), which to me are the ingredients of a good marriage, and with the way that the last book Deadlocked ended, I am optimistic that Sam just might be Sookie's Happily Ever After.  Of course, Harris might have other ideas which is why this series has been so very good from start to almost finished.
I have just finished Dead Until Dark, my introduction to Sookie and her life in Bon Temps.  I have been thoroughly scrutinising every word because I don't plan on reading this series for a good long while and I want to savor every page.   There's interesting little tidbits everywhere which I have forgotten (or perhaps not noticed first time through because I am usually in a rush to find out what's happened), which incidentally support my Sam theories (it has been flavoring my opinions, but don't worry though... I know that Harris could easily go a whole 'nother way).

One influence that I do find rather annoying is the tv show.  I will state right now that I really don't like what they have done in True Blood.  This is not my picture of Sookie's life.   It is overdone, overblown and makes Sookie out to be a bit stupid and crass (which she certainly isn't), and the town of Bon Temps and the characters in it are over the top (waaaay over that top!).  I stopped watching it after the second season, realizing that the focus was on all of the bad stuff and the small stuff (like the sex etc.,).  And some of the characters from the book have had awful treatments and alterations which add an ugly bias of their own and take away from what has always been prevalent in Harris' books which is Sookie's tolerance and acceptance of everybody, no matter what type of person they are, whatever supernatural leaning or level of intelligence. Sadly, I have lost the picture in my mind of what I thought the characters used to look like  and the True Blood actors have imposed themselves in their place.  While I realize that certain story lines are impossible to put to screen, most of these embellishments are not necessary and frankly take away from what is, in my mind, the most important thing in the story, Sookie Stackhouse.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the series and will try to contain my excitement until May.  No matter what Harris decides to do in the end, whichever way she decides to go, I know that I am just going to love it!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Green Shadows, White Whale

This is one that I have never read!  When I was in my twenties and had first discovered Ray (The Martian Chronicles), I kept the local library busy bringing in through inter-library-loan every single book of Ray's that they had.  But this one eluded me, and I was pleasantly surprised to see what it actually was about.  I had always thought that since he had written the script for the movie with Gregory Peck in it, that it was a novelisation of the movie and since I had read the original by Herman Melville,  I really did not need to read what he had done. 

What it really was about was Ray's slightly embellished experiences of Ireland while he was writing the screenplay for the book. From the very first page I was enthralled with what he felt and saw and heard.  I liked how he wrote about the director John Huston, and I loved how in one chapter he described a stale wedding cake (the wedding had been post-phoned a week) to Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.  I loved it so much I laughed a great deal and quite hard, which is a switch from my usual experience with  a Bradbury collection.  Usually, when I read a story by Ray it is a very intense feeling, my heart swells, I am awestruck, reality shifts and I am taken to a surreal plain where only Ray can take me.  I'm not kidding... it's really like that!  That's why he's the king of the short story, why he will live forever, because I have yet to find anything by anyone that has ever transported me like this. 
 I think after my earlier response to The Dinosaur Tales, Green Shadows, White Whale  was like a balm for my grief, and I feel strengthened by it to carry on reading through the rest of his books next year.

Dinosaur Tales

I spent a couple of months after  Ray's death buying up whatever books I didn't own of his (it was a job I had often thought of doing but always put off because it would be such a huge undertaking!).  After he died it became urgent for me to get them all before they would disappear too.  Of course, I was never disillusioned into thinking he would live forever... I knew he was very old, and it was such a gift to me whenever I discovered a new collection of his stories in the library, but that doesn't make it easier when they do go.  This is a personal hurt for me, because through his books I felt that I knew him, and there was such a deep sense of loss when he died.  
I haven't, except for The Halloween Tree and The October Country,  read any of his work for quite some time, so this little book, with its illustrations and poetry was a new experience.   I learned something new about Ray which was that he was friends with Ray Harryhausen, and that he was a lover of dinosaurs (which, of course, makes perfect sense knowing what I do know about Ray).  So this collection was a nice way to begin a year long challenge of reading those books of his  that I bought this year.  At the end I have to say that it was tough.  Usually at the end of a story or a collection of his stories I have this feeling that I have been touched by greatness, I can't believe where he has taken me and every experience is different.  This time it was bittersweet for me.  While he has physically left us he will never really leave, because his stories will live forever.  I can keep him alive as long as I am living simply by just reading something of his.  He isn't really gone, he didn't disappear, he's still here with me, every time I open one of his books.

Among Others

Just finished this gem of a novel this morning!  It has several things about it that appeal to me and they are this; 1. It is written in the form of a diary.
2. The protagonist talks a lot about what she reads (which is mainly science fiction, and because she was excused from doing three hours daily of exercise at her boarding school,  she read a great deal!). 3. It is what it is.  What I mean by that last part is that there isn't, like current popular fiction, a nasty twist at the end.  I seriously was waiting for the other shoe to drop because this story reminded me very strongly of the feel of The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks which had a seriously wicked, twisted ending, so when I was just ten pages from the end I was almost shaking in my boots wondering how this story would end, and then it did end!  The world did not drop out from underneath me, I was pleasantly surprised and I loved it!  What a mindfully suspenseful non-twisty tale.  Of course, I will be seeking out the rest of her books, once I have read all of the ones that were mentioned in this book (which I have not already read).   Jo must have made an extensive  study of the craft,  the knowledge is all there (which I can attest to having read a great deal of the books that were mentioned), I got the references.  If you are a sci-fi book-geek, this is a perfect book for you!    It won both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Once More into the Breach

Wow!  I had not realised how much I had neglected this blog.  All I can say is that it has been a difficult couple of months and I have not felt the urge to share about my reading experiences.  Not that I didn't read... I think the almost complete total for this year (so far) was over 250 books, I still have a few more weeks to go! 
It was a good experience this reading challenge year, and next year's challenge (which I officially started on the 13th) will be quite toothsome.  Thirteen categories, thirteen books in each (some LTer's are quivering in their boots, but I am definitely up for it!), I have also added an extra challenge of thirteen more categories but in a stepped challenge eg., 1 large chunky book, 2, books of poetry, 3 quilting books, 4 plays etc.,  just for fun because I love to have as broad a variety to chose from as possible and it was very satisfying to complete my extra-long challenge this year as I read so many books that I had wanted to without feeling restricted.
2013 will be the year that I finally settle down to read the books that I purchased this last year (I never got around to counting how many!).  I bought up as many books I could get my hands on by Ray Bradbury (there are still some out there  but I will get a hold of them in the summertime), and this coming year's challenge is to read them all and to write about them if I can.  I have to admit that even now, six months after Ray's death, I still feel it keenly.  More on that in my next blog entry.
I have to say, even though I never met the man, he has touched my life in such important and profound ways, and through his books I feel I  know him so well!
To finish, I do plan on writing about some of the books I read this year, one in particular that will be, I promise, full of those colorful metaphors which I wouldn't usually use in polite society (but I just can't help it with this book!).  There's much to do before the year is up so cheers again for today, and be prepared for some prolific activity from me these winter holidays (just one more week to go!).  Happy reading!